517: As You Help Us Lift Cities in Prayer, Here’s Some of What We’re Learning …

Faith is a pillar in your life—whether you’re a devout and traditional member of one particular faith or your spiritual strength lies in a broad array of practices you follow in the course of a week.
    That faith rises up from the more than 100 prayers written by men and women for the city of Detroit on Saturday. Flipping open the red-covered prayer books created during the Detroit rally, the bold handwriting of one prayer after another cries out. One begins:
    “Creator and Divine One—
    “Inspire us!
    “Fill us with your Holy Presence to see beyond the divides we have created!”
    This same truth about the daily importance of faith “screams” from the massive Pew study of American life in 2008 and 2009. (If you want to go back and read about that Pew study, we had a report on the Pew findings in 2008 and again after the 2009 wave.)

     One of our photos today shows the newly elected Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bishop for southeast Michigan: Bishop Stephen Marsh. (He’s the man, at left here, writing in a prayer book. The next photo, below, shows one of this year’s co-sponsors, the Rev. Kenneth Flowers of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church, encouraging the crowd.) Stephen Marsh is the first African-American pastor elected to serve as a Lutheran bishop in this predominantly African-American city. Bishop Marsh put it this way at the Detroit rally: “God is not done with Detroit. God saves some of his best work for the worst of times. … If we believe we’re in this alone, we’re lost before we start. But we’re not alone, and prayer reminds us of that.”
    This is powerful stuff.
    It’s the fuel that the vast majority of Americans say allows them to keep running in troubling times like these.
    And it runs through all 100-plus pages of prayers written in Detroit on Sunday.

What else are we learning?

    We all need to pitch in and build new networks to link ourselves with a diverse array of other men and women in our communities—because the old connective tissue that held our communities together is falling apart.
    This shows up in one new prayer after another. One says, in part …
    “We seek Your guidance and strength in these difficult days in this city we love.”
    Not only are our economic systems failing us, and some of our most trusted corporations crumbling and our government services stretched to the breaking point—but the essential voices that call us together are falling silent.
    In 2008, with some important local media support in southeast Michigan, Lift Detroit in Prayer drew 1,000 men and women on a dark and stormy Sunday to the heart of the city for prayer. This year, we drew no local media support and the crowd at the rally numbered 100.
    Why did local voices fall silent? Mainly because local news media has fallen into tatters, even in a single year.
    Based on the 2008 Lift Detroit model, we began many months ago meeting with both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. After 30 years as a senior writer for newspapers, we firmly support and encourage local news media. We had hoped to use Lift Detroit in Prayer as a way to boost the newspapers’ own sagging numbers. In each case, we invited the News and Free Press to re-engage with their readers who no longer receive full-time religion writing in their newspapers. We invited them to set up booths to sell newspaper subscriptions. We invited them to open their Web sites so that Detroit-area families could write their “prayers” in the newspapers’ online space. (And by “prayer,” we included everything from orthodox litanies to secular best wishes for the city.)
    Both newspapers connected with enthusiastic editors who met with us over the months, in some cases for hours at a time, talking about the potential of reconnecting with the spiritual heartbeat of metro Detroit.
    But, this summer, both editors left abruptly in newspaper downsizing, one laid off and one leaving to teach and work on a doctorate. The connective tissue was gone. There was no one else to talk with at the last moment. Neither newspaper invited readers to engage. They were silent.
    The same thing is true for TV journalism. Similar appeals were made to
TV newsrooms. These were wide-open invitations to simply reconnect with the spiritual heartbeat of local viewers through a good-news story. We invited reporters to check out the three weeks of prayer rallies in a suburban area prior to the Sept. 12 rally. There were some positive responses—but, the hard truth is: No one
covers religion regularly in TV newsrooms. There’s little time for such
local news on the air. TV news crews, which were present and covered the 2008
event, were missing this year.

    One can bemoan that loss. We’re not. We’ve been reporting on this turbulent downsizing process in news media for two years—although the rather shocking declines over the summer surprised us.
    Each week, we are vigorously showcasing fresh ideas for connection. That’s our mission. We’re already launching, this week, our next in a continual flow of fresh ideas: Bible Here and Now.
    But we do need to report here—to encourage urgent conversations in our communities—about the lessons we keep learning. The more than 100 prayers written by men and women in a single morning in Detroit call out for a next step: rebuilding the connective tissue in local communities.
    In the week before Lift Detroit in Prayer, I participated in a retreat with a dozen religious authors, clergy and artists in New Mexico. What struck me was their general lack of awareness of the tattered state of media. They knew that bookstores are closing and newspapers are failing, but they were stunned to learn that roughly 100,000 journalists have been laid off in recent years—and at least 1 million fewer stories will be published this year.

    We need local media. Period.
    We know from online analysis that ReadTheSpirit is a global magazine with readers as far flung as California and Canada, Indonesia and India, New Mexico and New Zealand. Attempting to host a localized “real event” through a global “virtual community” is almost impossible. Our readers don’t live in any single place.
    Here’s an example: On Monday, we launched Bible Here and Now, an innovative set of free materials for religious educators, and we explained that one main author in the series is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The first youth worker to email us that he plans to use the material—is based in Knightdale, North Carolina.
    What we know is that online networks like ReadTheSpirit also need to connect with local communities—through whatever local media still is surviving out there—to have the strongest and most helpful impact in people’s lives.
    The Detroit Free Press still has a part-time specialist in writing about religion, Niraj Warikoo. He’s a highly respected voice and writes about religion when he can, among his many other demands. On Saturday, he came to Lift Detroit in Prayer and reported on the vitality and urgency of the Lift Detroit event for the Free Press’ Sunday editions. He summarized his many interviews on Saturday this way: “Prayer is vital to helping Detroit.”
    And all cities.

    To all of the people who sent prayers or wrote prayers in Detroit on Saturday—an enormous, heartfelt “Thank you!”
    To our readers far and wide, most of whom have never set foot in Michigan—please, celebrate the great inspiration in this grassroots rally of prayer. We will share more news with you about plans to keep collecting prayers from everywhere around the world—and plans to share these prayers with you.
    Wherever you live, help us rebuild the connective tissue that’s so tattered.
    You can start by inviting a friend to come enjoy ReadTheSpirit with you.

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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